CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) – When Semyon Varlamov was yanked in Russia’s final hockey game at the Sochi Olympics after allowing three goals in 15 shots, the shock wave was felt 6,269 miles away in Denver.
Fans of the Colorado Avalanche wondered how their goaltender’s ego would hold up over the remainder of the NHL season.
Upon returning to Denver, Varlamov showed he had taken the disappointment in stride.
“Sorry I didn’t bring my gold medal with me,” he cracked as a gaggle of reporters surrounded him following his first skate after the Olympic break.
Varlamov, of course, didn’t bring any color of medal back from his native Russia, and how that disappointment plays out will have a major effect on how the Avalanche do over the stretch run.
Avalanche Executive Vice President Joe Sakic said he thinks Varlamov will be just fine between the pipes and between the ears.
“He had a good tournament,” Sakic said. “You look at the last game, maybe the first (goal) he’d like to have back, but he had a great tournament for them and it definitely wasn’t goaltending that was the issue. Obviously, they all faced a lot of pressure being at home with the expectations.
“But Varly has been our MVP this whole year and I expect the same thing from him.”
Varlamov, who faced a domestic violence case earlier this season that was eventually dropped, has played a leading role in Colorado’s turnaround season.
“You can just tell his confidence is staying big in the net,” Sakic said. “He’s as good as any goalie there is out there. That’s the biggest thing. Goaltending is confidence, and he’s got it.”
The Avalanche sent three other players to the Olympics: American Paul Stastny, Swede Gabriel Landeskog, who showed off his silver medal upon his return, and Canadian Matt Duchene, who proudly wore his gold medal when he got back.
Duchene said the experience will help him grow as a pro.
“The biggest thing I’m taking away from that is just being around all those winners, those Stanley Cup champions,” Duchene said. “I grew up a couple of years and matured a lot more as a player and I think I can bring that experience and really bring that to the table here in Colorado.
“And that’s the thing I’m most excited about overall is that it makes me even more hungry to win a Stanley Cup now.”
Notes: The Avalanche announced Thursday they had signed F Marc-Andre Cliche to a two-year contract extension through 2015-16. … RW Alex Tanguay‘s season-ending knee injury makes it less likely the Avalanche will be busy come the March 5 trading deadline. “We’re happy if it’s status quo,” said Sakic, who lauded his team’s chemistry. “We’re not looking just to shake up the roster.” Sakic stressed he isn’t going to mortgage the team’s future for a quick fix, either: “If we can do something that will improve us now and down the line here in a couple of years then we’ll look at something to improve our hockey team. If not, I mean these guys have done a tremendous job. I’m very confident with this team.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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